Religion is nowadays an extremely touchy subject; if you ask religious people about non religious people there’s a good chance you will get a pretty nasty response, something involving a kind of hell and divine punishment, while if you ask the other group, probably some bad words will probably come up. If you ask me, everybody has the right to believe whatever the hell they want, as long as they don’t try it to impose to other people, but it seems religion is on a downhill slope these decades.

This was also the conclusion of a study that analyzed data from nine countries and found that religion is an ‘endangered species’ in all of them. The countries in case, Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland were studied using a mathematical model which attempts to understand and extrapolate the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The results were published at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US and they seem to indicate that religion will probably die alltogether in these countries, in a matter of time. The mathematical model behind it is extremely performant, albeit not innovative; it has also been used by one of the team members Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University, to understand the decline in lesser spoken language throghout the world.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona. “It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. “For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.”

Dr. Wiener continued:

“In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

In all of the countries, the results seemed to indicate that religion is heading towards extinction, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true; the team are working on ways to improve their model, in order to get more accurate results.

“Obviously we don’t really believe this is the network structure of a modern society, where each person is influenced equally by all the other people in society,” he said.

However, it’s definitely obvious that the results are at least suggestive, and it would be interesting to see this kind of model applied to other countries as well.

“It’s interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data, and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going. Obviously much more complicated things are going on with any one individual, but maybe a lot of that averages out.”

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  1. 1

    This is interesting (and IMHO welcome) news, but I wonder if there are studies that identify the specific characteristics of a nation or society that correlate with reduced or increased religious belief. Most of the nations listed are relatively wealthy nations with strong social safety nets, lower levels of income inequality, and good public educational systems, but I wouldn’t want to jump to the conclusion that those factors account for the decline of religion in those countries.

  2. 2

    I have read the study, which is basically a maths paper rather than giving any serious attention to the sociology of religion as such. The key assumption is that the so-called utility of religious affiliation is exactly the same for each citizen in a given country. That is regardless of whether they are frequent religious attenders, people who only go occasionally, or atheists. This is assumption is clearly untrue. They also assume the utility has changed in the past but will remain constant hereafter. Their model does not represent diversity. They do discuss the case of different social networks (e.g. regions, races etc.) but then they assume the same nationwide utility number applies to every group. They do not consider countries where religion is growing at a faster rate than non-religion, such as Russia and China (the logic of their approach would end up with those becoming 100% religious). They do not consider the interplay between countries where religion is growing and where it is declining. In short their model is absurdly simplistic.
    In New Zealand the drop in census religion is mostly among people who weren’t particularly religious anyway (low utility) while the core attenders (high utility) have kept going. The core could be estimated as 20% of New Zealanders who attend religious services at least monthly (47% at least yearly – reference NZ Electoral Survey 2008). Although overall census numbers have dropped, attendances are rising for some churches/religions. One example is the Methodists, one of New Zealand’s bigger denominations, which had been declining for years but confounded predictions of pending extinction by growing at the last census. Similarly I think the overall census religion numbers will not go to extinction but eventually bottom out and start to grow again.

  3. 3

    When everyone admits that we don’t know what happens when you die the world will become such a better place to live. People can then begin thinking clearly.

    The extinction of these primitive religions can not come soon enough.

    The only way you could believe any of these stories is to be brainwashed at birth.

    You will never see a healthy mind discover organized religion as an adult.

    Especially if they have been educated on the universe, the earth, science, and history.


  4. 4

    Religion is becoming extinct in the countries where people are the freest.

    Religion is the strongest in countries that limit people’s rights the most (except the United States where it has a constitution that prevents it)


  5. 5

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